Public welcome at iconic homes

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez would like to invite Miss-Lou residents to join visitors from across the country and around the world for a close-up look at two iconic Natchez houses: Stanton Hall and Longwood. During the upcoming Spring Pilgrimage, March 8 through April 12, hostesses in colorful hoopskirts and guides in 1860s style clothes enhance the experience.

The rise and decline of these two pre-Civil War houses, Frederick Stanton’s imposing urban mansion, Stanton Hall, and Haller Nutt’s suburban oriental villa, Longwood, represent a brief in American history created by the worldwide cotton economy and the institution of slavery. Ironically, the two men who had these colossal houses built died soon after occupying them. The widows, Hulda Stanton and Julia Nutt, and their children had to make the transition to a world far different from the one they knew before the War. They watched, helpless, as their fortunes disappeared.

Frederick Stanton, a wealthy cotton broker, called his extravagant home Belfast for the area of Ireland where he was born, and he planted 19 live oak trees on the grounds, several of which survive today. He moved his family into the newly completed, opulently furnished mansion in 1857 and died a few months later.

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After his death, his widow Hulda, their children and grandchildren struggled to keep the house until her death in 1893. The next year, the home became The Stanton College for Young Ladies, a day and boarding school, until 1901. Once again a private home, it was known as Stanton Hall. Pilgrimage Garden Club bought the mansion in 1938 to preserve it.

Haller Nutt, a native Mississippian, was a successful cotton planter with three profitable plantations, one in Louisiana and two in Mississippi. The prolific strain of cotton he grew came from experimenting with seeds that his brother, Rittenhouse, brought back from Egypt, stowed in an ostrich egg shell.

With his wealth and interest in science, he wanted to build a summer home in Natchez, an octagonal architectural fantasy in a Moorish style with lavish appointments and innovative modern conveniences.

At the start of the War in mid-1861, only the exterior of his grand, six-level, 32-room house topped by a Persian dome was completed. Fearing the uncertainties of war, the craftsmen sent by the architect from the North to work here went home, leaving the interior incomplete.

Nutt’s enslaved workers finished the eight-room basement in 1862, and the family moved in two years before his death. The loss of her husband left Julia with eight children to educate and raise as best she could. Crushing debts prevented completion of the home. Three generations of Nutt’s descendents lived in the basement, the haunting floors above remaining unfinished. In 1968, the Nutt heirs sold Longwood, and in 1970, the McAdams Foundation gave the house and grounds to Pilgrimage Garden Club, which then purchased 86 acres surrounding the home. Longwood is the largest existing octagonal house in the United States.

Stanton Hall and Longwood are open for tours daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and tickets may be purchased at each house for $15.

March and April can be a time of discovery in Natchez for our local neighbors, as well as for out-of-towners. Come experience some local history during Spring Pilgrimage.

Sharon Barnett is a member of the Pilgrimage Garden Club.